More attention is being drawn to the obstacles that female entrepreneurs and career women around the world face when looking to reach the next level of professional success.
From studies revealing that women are less likely to receive venture capitalist funding to research confirming that women have to work harder to be considered at par with their male colleagues, it is clear that women face a unique set of challenges in the workforce.
Beyond opportunity and wage inequality, there are gaps in the way young girls are raised that can create a mindset which can hinder the future success of these women.
Women are their own strongest critics
It turns out that most women judge their abilities and intellect much more critically than men do. In one study, fifth grade students with high IQs were given challenging tasks.
The girls were more likely to give up on challenging tasks while the boys worked harder to figure out the solution. Interestingly, the higher the girl’s IQ, the more likely she was to throw in the towel and feel helpless in face of the challenging task.
It should be noted that the girls in the fifth grade, as observed in this study, typically outperform boys in math and science.
So why do otherwise smart girls doubt themselves when it comes to unfamiliar and challenging tasks? What does it have to do with the confidence professional women have in themselves?
Praise and self-confidence in women
Social psychologist Dr. Halvorson’s explanation of this study in a Psychology Today post, provides great insight on why this happens:
“Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their “goodness.” When we do well in school, we are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever, ” or “such a good student.” This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.
Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., “If you would just pay attention you could learn this,” “If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.”) The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t “good” and “smart,” and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder”
Research at Stanford confirms this association: smart young girls are likely to unconsciously retain this perception that ability is a rigid characteristic that cannot be changed. They eventually grow up to be adults that judge themselves harshly and are less likely to take risks or challenges outside their area of expertise.
What does this mean for you?
If you have been mulling about launching a new blog, tech start up, ecommerce store, website or any other venture for a while, and your main concern is your lack of expertise in the field, remember this: the ability to perform a task is very flexible.
Just go for it! Research shows that the key to mastering a skill or area you are unfamiliar with is to be persistent and continue practicing.
Raising a girl child and wondering how you can help her develop a “growth mindset” that sees challenging tasks as an opportunity as opposed to a problem? It’s fairly simple.
Encourage your children of both sexes (especially the girls) by praising their progress and achievements in relation to their hard work. Instead of praising them for work well done by saying, “You are so smart,” recognize them by saying, “You must have worked hard to get this done!”
It’s a message that’s not just great for kids but for budding entrepreneurs too. Nothing great happens overnight; keep building.
5 thoughts on “Why smart girls become risk averse women”
I felt very self conscious growing up and didn’t feel confident in speaking my mind. Now I know that is hurting me at work and I’m trying to speak more at work so I’m not missing opportunities.
We as African women need to stand out more and take advantage of opportunities. We cannot be wasting time anymore when our countries are struggling and people don’t have jobs
This is one of my goals for 2016! Stop thinking so much and take more risks. That’s the only way I will accomplish some of my big goals this year.
This article is quite interesting. The research supports what I have long know to be true: too many school smart women, or just school smart people, tend to take a lot less risk than their C and D average peers.
I was definitely one of those kids who was rewarded by teachers and parents for getting As and now it seems I would much rather accept a guaranteed A than take a risk for an A+.